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horvath 01-24-2007 09:28 PM

Sewing 101 | Moose Leather Armrests
I've completed my first project with my "new" 1949 Singer sewing machine. This is a good lesson in basic sewing and hand stitching techniques.

I bought a pair of armrests from Classic Parts not too long ago ... this week I brought them in the house, took them apart and recovered them with leather from a Scandanavian moose who died and left his legacy in my interior.
I sewed all seams with the machine and then applied a "French Stitch" using a hand-stitching awl and heavy-duty waxed thread.

You can see the entire process here:
Click Here

Jagman06 01-24-2007 10:24 PM

Thanks for sharing, getting a few tips on any process can make the learning much easier for the next person

derm 01-24-2007 10:58 PM

Very nice write-up. Thanks for taking the time! I hope you and your moose have many wonderful journeys together! :thumbup:

gator412 01-26-2007 01:30 PM

very cool :thumbup:

DanTwoLakes 01-27-2007 08:12 AM

Your armrests are very interesting, I'm glad the moose didn't die in vain. A couple of comments.... you didn't back your french seam with anything, making the original machine stitch line the only thing holding your armrest together. A french seam is usually backed with twill tape covering the entire seam and sewn through on both sides to strengthen the seam. This is more important on places that get more abuse, such as seats.
Since you made cardboard patterns anyway, why not make them first and cut the leather from the pattern? Then if something doesn't fit, you can trim or add to the pattern and re-cut. Here are a few tips for making patterns from the original vinyl: Before you take the pieces apart, mark position notches (witness marks) on both sides of the fabric which you match up as you're sewing the pieces together. (There may already be position notches so just use those.) This is not so important on smaller projects, but very important on larger ones, like seats. After the pieces are taken apart, you will also probably need to add to the pattern to account for seam allowances (usually 1/2" or 3/8") Soak the vinyl in water until the backing is saturated and press it from the backside with a steam iron. Put a piece of plywood over the pieces, weight them down, and let them dry. This will flatten the vinyl and make it easier to trace. The left and right pieces are mirror images of themselves, so you only need one pattern which you flip over to cut left and right. On a piece which is the same on both sides, like the center section of your armrest, draw a center line on the cardboard, trace one half (the best half if you are copying old pieces) of the piece, and cut the pattern out up to the center line. Then simply fold the cardboard on the center line, outline the opposite half and cut out the rest. Again, not as important on smaller pieces, but very important on larger ones. Good luck with all your projects.

solidaxel 01-27-2007 09:50 AM

We haven't heard from you in awhile, thought you sold your truck!!!

horvath 01-27-2007 12:11 PM

Hey, Solidaxel - No way!
It's my daily driver! I've just been busy with other things and enjoying all the improvements I made on the truck, thanks to everyone here. I'm pretty much done with all the mechanics and now I'm getting back to projects, working up an interior, so I'm back.

DanTwoLakes - Thanks, Bro'! I needed to hear every piece of advice you gave. On the French Stitch, I did sew the top to the flap on the back side ... but I see what you mean about adding a piece that goes across to both sides for support to the seam. I did the machine-stitched seam with nylon upholstery thread and double-stitched each seam ... plus leather is much more plyable (more stretch) than vinyl, so I thought I was doing well and, also, I didn't want too much bulk there; there's enough from folding the leather as it is ... I think I need to skive (shave) the leather thinner wherever I'm gonna be French Stitching to get less bulk (thickness)?

I'm learning as I go on this one, so I sure do appreciate posts like yours!

DanTwoLakes 01-29-2007 12:08 PM

Horvath: I wasn't trying to rain on your parade. What you did was very nice, obviously done with a lot of love, and will probably last a long time. What I was trying to get through to everyone else is that a french seam needs to be stronger in other areas (like seats). BTW,........ be careful stitching vinyl, leather, or ultraleather too much. If you sew seams twice you run the risk of actually cutting the material by getting stitches too close together. Does your machine have a way to adjust stitch lenghth? If so, I wouldn't sew leather , vinyl, or ultraleather with more than 6 or 7 stitches per inch for that same reason.
In one of your other posts there was mention of nylon thread being resistant to sun and waterproof. Nylon thread is the strongest, but polyester thread (Sunguard 92) holds up to sun better than nylon.

horvath 01-29-2007 03:21 PM

DanTwoLakes: You didn't rain on my parade at all, Bro' ... quite the opposite -- you taught me some very important points, and now you've given me a couple more! Keep it up!

You've got me wondering though ... what about seats that don't have a French stitch? Where there is just a simple seam sewn, is there some sort of reinforcement there that we don't see?

I'm using actual animal hides ... moose and elk, so far. This kind of leather is amazingly strong! I mean, if I'm cutting a piece and have a 32nd of an inch still holding on, I can't pull it off by hand - I have to cut that tiny bit in order to get it free!

I'm having trouble getting 6 stitches per inch with my Singer because the leather creates so much friction. I'm going to try using a teflon foot and see if that helps ... but I may wind up buying an industrial machine anyway, like a Tacsew or a Pfaff, so I can use fatter thread. Also, I'm not too happy with the hand-stitching I did ... the thread is too heavy looking I think and the amount of work involved is ridiculous.

What kind of machine are you using? And what size thread?

DanTwoLakes 01-29-2007 04:26 PM

Nope, there's nothing other than the single line of stitching. Production line seats are generally made from fabric that has a foam and a backing bonded to it, which makes the seam pretty strong. Most of the time perimeter stitching is top-stitched for a couple reasons: additional strength, and top stitching smooths out the seam, and makes it lay down where you want it. (It also gives the piece a finished, tailored look that I really like) I use a Consew 226R and a Consew 255RB-3 with nylon #69 thread and pre-wound bobbins for almost everything. Anything I sew that will be used outside gets polyester Sunguard thread. The 255RB-3 uses larger M style bobbins whereas the 226R uses smaller G bobbins. Both of these machines will adjust stitch length and also adjust for different thicknesses of fabric. Trying to sew hides like Moose or Elk has got to be challenging. My guess is that you're going to have a tough time tailoring things with these heavy leathers. I like my Consew machines. One reason I stuck to them is the feet are interchangeable. I've got a lot of money invested in different feet, so it's nice to be able to use them on either machine. (for example, I have a 5/8" welt foot that I only sew windlace with using 1/2" sponge rod.) Pfaff makes a good machine also, as does Juki and Singer. You don't have to buy a new one to get a good machine, but take it to a qualified mechanic and make sure it is set up correctly. If you have any other questions, ask away.

horvath 01-29-2007 04:39 PM

Thanks, man. I appreciate all this info greatly!

My biggest question right now is about thread thickness and needle sizes. On my Singer, I'm using a #18 leather needle with nylon upholstery thread (Coats #D-64) ... this seems too thin-looking to me for upholstery work - my Singer will take #69 thread but I'm not sure where to get some.

Is there a big difference between #64 and #69 thread?

Also, I haven't seen any needles larger than #18, though I've heard people talking about #22 but again, I don't know where to buy them.

PS - What do you mean by "top-stitched?" Is that like "half of a French stitch?"

DanTwoLakes 01-30-2007 08:04 AM

D-64 is Coats upholstery thread designation and should be comparable to the #69 I use. They also make a topstitching thread that looks heavier. My machines use 135x17 needles, and I like size #22 which is the largest. I'm not familiar with your machine's needles or available sizes, but if you're using a large leather point needle (kind of wedge or arrowhead shaped) you should be fine. Rochford Supply in Minnesota is a good online source of thread and prewound bobbins. I buy mine from local upholstery suppliers. There is (or used to be) an upholstery supply shop in Harrison, NJ who would have #69 thread. Topstitching is what you see around the perimeter of car seats that don't have cording. After sewing a seam, both pieces of fabric are laid down in one direction and sewn down together, so you are sewing through three layers of fabric, the outside and both sides of the seam which are underneath and not seen. Yes, it would look like half of a french seam.

horvath 01-30-2007 03:41 PM


I did some modifications to my Singer last night ... this is a great machine, built in 1949; a true workhorse! I'm now getting 5 stitches per inch out ouf it, sewing 4.5 oz. leather ... I had to file the grooves in the needle plate at the back to allow the added movement of the feed dog, but it all worked out well.

Now, I'm told that I can use a 92-size thread with this machine ... I don't know what that means, but I imagine it's heavier looking which is what I want.

Next, I'm going to try a roller foot ... that should allow me a larger stitch, too.

Once I get the machine doing what I want, I'm going to do the armrests over again and see if I get better results.

Honestly, after seeing the great looks of real leather, I can't imagine using anything else ... look at this and tell me if there's anything else like it:

It's the center piece (horn cover) on my '75 Caddy steering wheel.

trees 01-30-2007 05:57 PM

Alan, glad you are still around and still hanging with the PU. I like your arm rests and, like you, I like the French seams. There are tools you can buy that makes the holes for the hand stitching that allow you to get them both straight and even. You can get them in different sizes, space distance and number of teeth. I like to have 2, 3, and 4 teeth. I use the 4 toother for straight seams and for curves, I go down depending on the steepness of the curves. I always put a tooth in the last hole I punched so it keeps the seam spacing very even all the way and as straight as you can with a machine.


horvath 01-30-2007 06:05 PM

Hey, Trees! It's good to connect with you again, Brother!
Man, I can't find a 4-toother ... I like 4 stitches per inch, too. Where can I find one? If you have a source, I sure would appreciate it. All I've been able to find is 5, 6 & 7 per inch - it's a hand tool with a wheel on the end, right?

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